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Ask Allison: 'My husband lost his job but is still trying to keep up with his wealthy siblings'

Our resident therapist answers your queries about life and relationships

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Q My husband has lost his job and I don't earn a huge amount. I am not too worried as we can cover the essentials and I am sure my husband will find a job soon. The thing is he refuses to face reality. His siblings are all very wealthy and his family gatherings are, in my opinion, overpriced and showy. The parents would also be quite materialistic. There is a big family event coming up and of course it is in one of Ireland's most expensive hotels over a few nights.

My husband doesn't want to even entertain us missing it and I am so angry with him. I put up with this showy nonsense quietly when we could afford it but I am disgusted that he can't face reality or put our family first. It is making me wonder if we should be together at all, so different are our values in this regard.

He gets really angry if I even bring up not going. Can you help?

A There are so many family dynamics playing out here. Firstly, I am sorry your husband lost his job, it is incredibly hard on him and you all as a family. It can feel so personal when you lose your job and the impact upon your husband needs some space here as this may be a large part in explaining his avoidance of the situation at hand.

It's one that will respond to understanding and compassion, which is really tough when you know that staying in a hotel you can't afford is triggering a whole host of feelings about the relationship your husband has with his family and you, with him and them.

Let's separate a feeling of 'you and them', or is this at the heart of it? You feel angry because you feel he is putting his family of origin before yours. This is such a huge issue many couples face and it is a prerequisite in a healthy marriage to psychologically see and meet your family's needs first, which is yours.

This is not always an easy transition and when families are enmeshed and boundaries and expectations have overstepped the mark for years, your anger may have been building accordingly.

Why did you accept this quietly? Does your husband know how you have felt about this over the years? It is undermining to the relationship if you don't let your husband know that this is an important value to you. Don't expect him to be a mind-reader if you show your feelings in a passive way. The only way through this is to have a constructive, honest and direct conversation.

Before you do that, spend some time getting to the heart of the issue. If you feel his family are materialistic and showy how is that for you? What do your FOO - 'family of origin' - feel about extravagant shows or displays of wealth?

The emotion you feel is disgust and this is a very strong feeling of being repulsed. I can see why this worries you, as disgust is such a strong emotion that is built upon the premise of making you wince and move away from the offending source.

Write on paper what disgusts you and why. Pour all the feelings you have about this out. Separate the thoughts you are having from your husband and look at the thoughts and themes it's bringing up first.

You are right, money is a value, the question is, what is that value for you? For some, money is about power, status and control, for others it means security and safety and some value money for the freedom it can give.

How was money discussed and viewed within your family of origin? Look at the belief systems you hold about money. Was it considered brash or offensive to 'show off', especially in a public way? Was money talked about openly or in secret?

This can become part of starting healthy new conversations that you can have with your husband together as he also explores what money means in his family and to examine the beliefs and behaviours that have ensued.

The thing about money is the behavioural patterns it creates, the unspoken rules and assumptions that everyone may feel they have to abide to, from presents to going to dinner to holidays. Family norms can make it very hard to even see the wood from the trees in terms of recognizing the choices that are available.

Be aware that this is uncomfortable work and may in part be why your husband isn't considering the options. He may feel his value was tied up in having a good income and this may make him feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, ashamed and not good enough. This may be a value he learned at home. So, to him not going to the hotel may feel like a personal failure.

This seems to be the crux of your disgust as it is calling your husband's values into question, but I would suggest spending some time on this hot topic. Being fully aware that it is an immensely emotionally charged topic so choosing connection over what can easily feel like an attack is a helpful tack to pursue.

Connecting and supporting each other's needs will make you stronger as a couple and family and understanding what is driving certain behaviours that are not just current, they are historical. You are asking him to turn towards you and your family first and this is very important. My advice is to both turn towards each other at this difficult time.

If you have a query, email Allison at allisonk@independent.ie

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